Old Scores: The Game is Never Over

Sorting myself out on a Monday morning here in Dalian, China, I was surprised to notice how December loomed. Good Canadian lad that I am, ancestral memories rang a High Holy Day alarm: wait, the 28th? That must mean the Grey Cup was yesterday! I hadn’t a clue, though, that my electronic clicks and misses would send me towards a septuagenarian brawl and some old, old questions.

I didn’t know who was in the Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League’s championship game, though I’d read in the Globe and Mail on-line that my (nearly) hometown Hamilton Tiger-Cats had won a playoff game. Since we’re 13 hours ahead of EST, I was able to follow the blurts and textual mutterings of various G&M Sports Guys in the press box as the B.C. Lions clawed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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Super Bowl Forty

Well, as almost appears inevitable, The Big Game was a letdown after all the hype. Super Bowl XL (“Extra Large”, as the marketing grads predictably and unerringly labelled it) in scenic Detroit was a 7-3 dud at halftime, and not that the defences were Steel Curtains or particularly ‘hawkish. Mainly, we were treated to dropped balls and nervous-Nelly penalties, whether incurred by hypertastic players or anxiously hankied by jittery officials (like the Seattle touchdown that was called back).

I feel for the players, though. No, really! Huge contracts and unhealthy levels of fame aside, they’re still athletes and have to work under some serious handicaps. The build-up to the game is a Monster. For all their “We shocked the world!” bravado – which is an even more narrow definition of the planet than baseball’s “World” Series – the athletes are overwhelmed when the larger world (well, of entertainment and fashion and Corporate America) pays its most greedy attention.

The pre-game festivities are sombre and endless. (Football gets socially relevant: Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King are remembered, for a minute or so.) Aging legends are trotted out. My son couldn’t stop laughing during the anthems, Dr. John and Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin having been so accurately sent up the night before on Saturday Night Live. (But it was, after all, the Detroit-remembers-New-Orleans-not-only-for-its-musical-heritage-but-also-for-its-tragic-hurricane angle.) Of course, more aging stars at halftime made the break about twice as long as the normal one, so coaches can think and talk more and the players can get more antsy and more stiff. (Obligatory Rolling Stones take: they are definitely old, and it’s a bit like seeing your grandmother shaking her booty-licious charms, but they can play. It was just a bit creepy, but so much better than the Black-Eyed Peas at the Grey Cup.)

And as someone who played a high school season at quarterback before Coach Woody sighed and gave the reins to the grade 10 kid, I see the balls as the ultimate symbol that the game itself doesn’t much matter anymore. They bring in a new (read: shiny, slippery) loaf for every play, so they can give away a hundred footballs that were Actually Used In The Super Bowl! I’d like to think that they go for charitable causes, but I’ll bet they end up in fat-cat living rooms and boardrooms. (Things baseball does right: they don’t let Spiderman movie ads on their bases, their bats are made of wood, and they have every game ball rubbed up with dirt so they are game-ready.) Weird stuff happens to a game when the needs of its most skilled performers, in this case the QBs, are given such obvious disregard. Imagine if the NHL required the fastest game on earth to be confined to an archaically small ice surface where relatively unskilled players can dictate the pace! (Oh, wait, that’s what they do. My bad. Mind you, they are actually calling many of the penalties in the rulebook this year, but will they in the playoffs? Not counting on it. Hope I’m wrong.)

Clearly, I did not consume enough beer during the match, but I watched it all. Surely that counts for something. And the football did get better in the second half, but once again, the Game Itself was pale compared to the Grey Cup game for Canadian football. “Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little,” said the American writer Edna Ferber, and she never even saw a Super Bowl. (And looky there! A literary quote from a dead chick! And you never even saw it comin’…)

Grey Cup Sunday: Football, Canadian Style

I’m not the CFL fan I was in the days of Garney Henley and Joe Zuger, Ben Zambiasi and Chuck Ealey. (Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about?) I’ve seen some highlights from the Canadian and National Football Leagues (interesting how the “national” league claims it plays for the “world championship”, isn’t it?), but I haven’t actually watched a game this year. I was determined to at least see the Cup. (I make the same general rule for the Super Bowl, which usually has ten times the hype and half the excitement.) Anyhow, I apparently don’t move in the right circles to wangle an invitation to a Grey Cup party with a decent television, so I ended up working my magic on the rabbit ears and the mighty CBC telecast came through fairly well. Had the living room all to myself. (Sigh.)

The first half was like a lot of Super Bowls, filled with tense athletes and careful coaches and defences preying on the timidity of both. 10-1 at half, a bit of a yawner. Halftime was one of those weird spectacles, where dancing girls and extras are brought around a stage – tiny in the midst of a football field – and the camera operators keep a tight focus so that we at home can’t see what they can: stick figures on a stage playing to a hundred people, acres of turf and half-empty stands (there are more beers and goodies to be inhaled, and incredible quantities of urine to be leaked).

So home’s the best seat in the house, which matters not a whit if you have to watch the Black Eyed Peas. This was my second BEP sighting, and I don’t get it at all. Sure, I’m a forty-something guy who had a James Taylor phase, but I can get hippity every once in a while. Eminem’s a bit toxic, but he’s a talent. I’m getting to know dear old Public Enemy a little, and I actually dig Buck Sixty-Five with a fairly large shovel. But the Peas? Please. Somebody has to explain this to me. (Unless it’s all about a blonde singer grinding with men of colour. Nah. Couldn’t be.)

Anyhow, the second half made me pay attention again: play upon play, lead change after lead change, overtime thrills, a bonehead play by a brainy quarterback. My joint was jumping and I  was the only one there. So I may not get the halftime show, if I ever did, but I still get football, Lord help me, and nothing beats the big-balled Canadian version (with its imported American stallions) when it’s at its best.

(Just one more thing: Madame Jean, nice to see you there for the presentation of your predecessor’s famous gift to Canadian football. But if the Governor General is going to honour the champs with Lord Grey’s famous mug, she shouldn’t do it while playing Vanna White — is she still alive and flipping? — to the CFL Commissioner’s Pat Sajak. I’m just saying.)